Excellence in Safety: Tempur Sealy

In October, SVAM honored six Southwest Virginia manufacturers with awards for their outstanding companies. Through this blog series, we would like to highlight the achievements of these manufacturers.


Charles Johnson, EHS Manager

Tempur Sealy in Duffield, VA was awarded our Excellence in Safety award. To learn more about the company and the impact of the award, we interviewed Charles Johnson, EHS Manager at Tempur Sealy.


Tell us about your company.

Tempur was originally based on NASA’s research to develop a material that would cushion aircraft seats and improve survivability in the event of an accident.
The first Tempur-Pedic mattress was introduced by DanFoam, a Swedish technical foam firm. The brand was brought to the United States in 1992 and the company Tempur-Pedic, Inc. was founded. The plant in Duffield started manufacturing in 2001.

Tell us about the program(s) you have implemented that led you to win this award.

We do industrial hygiene monitoring annually in areas where Isocyanates (a family of highly reactive, low molecular weight chemicals) are present. We have updated our Slabstock line and pillow mold carousels to more of an enclosure to increase the ventilation flow. Safe chemical handling has been improved by adding safety interlocks to all delivery systems including pumps & valves. All control systems are now hooked into a safety PLC & safety relays if needed. Other improvements include closing in slab molding tunnel with metal & sheetrock to contain off gases. Carbon filtration system speed has been increased to extract more off gases. Also filtration system was interlocked to machine so it cannot be ran while the system is off.
A complete Hybrid assembly line was engineered to handle mattress tubes, coil springs & stacking of complete mattress. This includes unrolling of springs in a safe enclosed machine. Also machinery was put in place to deliver springs to the tub without operators having to handle the weight of springs. All spray equip are hanging from a tool balance device to reduce handling of heavy hoses & spray equipment.

We also put systems in place for safe removal of scrap trimming from the saws at the laminators. The systems include multiple conveyors to let the scrap fall then be transferred to the overhead conveyors that will auto feed the foam baler. These conveyors have eliminated need for operators to handle scrap foam trimmings.

img_0503We have a very solid forklift program from training down to engineer controls we have put into place. When training a new forklift operator we go by the OSHA standard that includes class room training with a written test. The most important part of the training is the on hands or the driving part. We require the employee to operate the forklift 4 hours a day for 30 days with an experience driver nearby training them. This is completed prior to when their performance is evaluated. We have put in engineering controls in place or on our Powered Industrial Equipment; we installed a shock watch/total trax system on our forklifts. This system allows us to control who can or cannot operate our forklifts. This system also monitors the driver’s performance and if he or she comes into contact with anything and generates a Gforce higher than the set amount the shock watch system will shut down the forklift operations, and this will require the supervisor to reset the forklift and complete an investigation on the incident.

In January 2012, we added certification to the OHSAS 18001 Health & Safety standard. The Health & Safety standard requirements have been incorporated into our existing Quality and Environmental Management Systems. By using this successful foundation of management system control, we now have a true Quality, Environmental, Health, and Safety (QEHS) Management System that will benefit our customers, neighbors, and employees. The commitment and effort to maintain the health and safety at our facility is evident from the 3rd party audit results of “zero” audit findings for the past two years for our OHSAS 18001:2007. Certification to the new ISO 45001:2018 standard is planned for March 2019. We also have enhanced our near miss/safety suggestion program to get the employees more involved in reporting and as well as help come up with the corrective action. We continue to have monthly all hands meetings to communicate any near misses or incidents that are reported during the month

img_2264We have implemented a strong wellness program which includes a stretching program along with having a physical therapist onsite to help with work related and non-work related strains and pains. The MedFit Early Intervention Program (EIP) is designed to recognize and start early treatment prior to an injury occurrence. Employees with aches, pains and concerns come to our specialist and are assessed according to their complaints. The specialist will then determine a Medical Exercise Training program to start with the employee if an outside referral is not needed. The employee will come for 30-minute sessions one to two times per week determined by the specialist. We will then look at the type of complaint and perform an ergonomic assessment on the employees’ workstation to see if there are modifications that are needed to help address the employee’s complaints. Our goal is to give the employee a healthy quality life inside the Tempur work field as well as when the employees are off duty.

How do you feel your company was set apart from other companies who might apply for this award?

Tempur has been rebuilding the safety culture over the previous years; the Tempur safety culture is the attitude, beliefs, perception and values that the employees share in relation to safety in our workplace. Tempur’s senior management commitment to safety, realistic practices for handling hazards, continuous organizational learning, and care and concern for hazards shared across the workforce. Employee involvement is not the goal nor is it a tool, we believe it is a management and leadership philosophy about how people are most enabled to contribute to continuous improvement and the ongoing success of our work organization.

Where do you see the future of your company in regard to Excellence in Safety?

The improvements Tempur has made of the past few years has made us a company with a world class safety score. Tempur has improved dramatically over the last 4 years due to employee involvement, upper management buy in, effective accident investigations, and no fault safety attitude. The national Recordable Case Rate for mattress manufacturing is 4.2 and Tempur’s 12 month average is .40 and we set an all-time high of working 362 days without a recordable incident.
What has winning this award meant to your company? Have there been internal or community impacts of winning the award?

By winning this award it has proven to the company that the time, man power and money that company invested to improve the Safety Program was a great success. Our employees along with Tempur do a great job to ensure that safety is one of the top priorities of every work day and winning this award validates all their hard work.

tempur building


Manufacturer of the Year: Scholle IPN

In October, SVAM honored six Southwest Virginia manufacturers with awards for their outstanding companies. Through this blog series, we would like to highlight the achievements of these manufacturers.


Melinda Roberts, Human Resources Manager

Scholle IPN in Chilhowie, VA was awarded our Manufacturer of the Year award. To learn more about the company and the impact of the award, we interviewed Melinda Roberts, Human Resources Manager at Scholle IPN.

Tell us about your company.

Scholle IPN is an industry-leading performance packaging company focused on bag-in-box, pouch packaging, and packaging components.   We have 19 worldwide sites and the Chilhowie, VA location has been in operation for more than 20 years with production of over 90 million bags produced in 2017.  The facility operates with empowered high performance work teams utilizing Lean and Six Sigma, MDI (Managing Daily Improvements) and strategic planning processes.

Tell us about the program(s) you have implemented that led you to win this award.

Safety – 1st Priority – Pursuit to Zero program requires 100% participation from all employees through a series of monthly safety activities assigned to all departments.  We have 4 Safety Core Values in which we operate by:  (1) I Matter – Nothing we do is worth risking injury (2) I Prevent – All incidents are preventable  (3) I Manage – Safety is a process we will manage.  (4) I am Responsible – I am responsible for the safety of myself & of my teammates.

Quality – 2nd Priority – We have 4 Quality Core Values in which we operate by: (1) I Believe – Believing that quality is our value to our customer (2) I Protect – Protecting our customer’s brand by preventing any quality and food safety incidents.  (3) I Build – Building quality into our systems, services and products every day and every hour.  (4) I am Responsible – Quality is every employee, supplier, and stakeholder’s responsibility.

We have a new Data Acquisition System in which we can have a bird’s eye view of a machines real time performance. We utilize employees for Kaizen Events and Six Sigma projects for continuous process improvements.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is considered a result of inputs from our Safety, Quality, Reactive Maintenance, Changeovers, Supply Chain, Production Scheduling, Continuous Improvement and Employee Engagement Programs.

We have networking teams throughout our company at different locations established for Safety, Quality, C.I. and Human Resources.  These teams collaborate and share best practices among our facilities.

Employee Engagement Program is theme based and helps build morale, teamwork and comradery within our organization.  We spotlight individual and plant contributions and reward employees for their hard work.  We have a variety of activities and goals that directly align with our Corporate Annual goals.

How do you feel your company was set apart from other companies who might apply for this award?

We use a Policy Deployment method in which our workforce becomes part of the business by deciding how to contribute to our strategic objectives.  So….in essence it’s our appreciation and utilization of our people that stands out.

Where do you see the future of your company in regard to being Manufacturer of the Year?

We continue to raise the bar each year with record setting, innovation and process improvements.  We will be growing our business and facility size in the future which will help create more wins for Scholle IPN.

What has winning this award meant to your company? Have there been internal or community impacts of winning the award?

It was a great honor to receive this award, knowing all of the great companies out there and the fact that Scholle IPN was chosen for the award.  We felt a sense of pride with our employees being recognized for their outstanding efforts.  It has allowed us to showcase our success to the community and our corporate group as well.

Any final thoughts or comments?

The greatest asset at Scholle IPN is our people and our daily work and core values in how we operate each day reflect the same.  Working together we unleash our creativity, driving engagement from the front line on up to plant management.  We consistently strive to beat our goals by leveraging our Employee Engagement program, Continuous Improvement, real time problem solving and innovation to remain competitive in an ever changing market.


For more information about Scholle IPN visit their website www.scholleipn.com.

NEWScholle IPN Logo - Red Box Slate Text

Creating a Kaizen Culture

Peter Miles, Technology Acceleration Manager at Genedge, recently led, “Creating a Kaizen Culture”, a training provided by SVAM and the SVAM Center of Excellence. The training covered:

  • Some of the key practices and methodologies that support the development of a Kaizen Culture.
  • How we can select specific approaches to handle different problems.
  • The most common causes of failure in process improvement initiatives and how to avoid them.

Below is a summary of the training. All notes were taken from Mr. Miles’ presentation. SVAM Members can view the full presentation here.

Why Process Improvement? Every company or organization provides a product or service to their customers. Customers will order from those companies that meet their expectations for better quality, lower price, and faster delivery. Process Improvement will help companies meet those three objectives. Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) is designed to help you meet your customer’s needs by achieving their expectations which builds a strong relationship. Since WWII many updates have been made in the Manufacturing Process Improvement from Training Within Industry, through Kaizen in both Japan and the USA to Lean Enterprise.

Lean…it’s all about speed. Lean’s outward focus is providing fast, responsive, and accurate delivery. Its inward focus is on eliminating or reducing waste in the process. These improvements are often executed using a Kaizen Event, which is typically a 3-5 day event. Lean is designed to attack wastes associated with defects, over production, waiting, non-utilized resources/talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and excess processing.

Origin of the Kaizen Event: The term Kaizen refers to Kaizen Events meant to improve or “lean out” processes. The 3-5 days approach was seen as the most efficient use of time, since most companies were paying Japanese Senseis to run the activity. It was re-introduced to American in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is also known as a Rapid Improvement Event. It is an intense team effort to provide process improvement. There are “do-now” solutions through employee involvement and management must ensure availabilities for Kaizen execution. Over time the improvements become part of the job for all employees.

PDSA: Plan-Do-Study-Act is the traditional cycle used for Kaizen. The whole idea is to try a solution and test the results and repeat this process until satisfied with the result.


Core Kaizen Lean Tools include:

  • Value Stream Mapping to understand the flow and performance of the process.
  • Value-Add Analysis to identify improvement opportunities.
  • Work flow to reduce non-value added transportation steps and improve communication.
  • Process balance to balance workload and increase throughput.
  • Pull systems to control WIP and stabilize process cycle time.

Special Purpose Lean Tools include:

  • 5S: Sort, set in order, shines, standardize, and sustain for workplace organization.
  • Rapid changeover for improved flexibility and responsiveness.
  • Mistake-proofing to eliminate rework.
  • Total Preventative Maintenance to prevent breakdowns and down-time.

The Development of Six Sigma: Six Sigma was developed by Mikel Harry and Bill Smith as a data driven approach based on two main concepts:

  1. DMAIC methodology – A structured problem solving application based on a five stage method:
    1. Define
    2. Measure
    3. Analyze
    4. Improve
    5. Control
  2. The reduction of variation to create a more consistent product.

Lean Six Sigma Integration: Maintains health of your process. Lean is like a wellness program. Six Sigma is like a cure for a medical problem.

CPI Execution Levels: Use the “right size” method for the problem you have.

  • Daily Kaizen, Two Second Lean, Waste Outs, Itches and Scratches, Quick Wins
  • Kaizen Event, A3’s and 8D activities
  • The Lean Six Sigma Project
  • Kaizen Support

Work Culture

  • Culture: Customs and beliefs of a particular group at a particular time.
  • Work Culture: Customs and beliefs of workforce and how they function in the workplace.

Establishing a work culture takes relentless execution of work tasks in a way consistent with beliefs and behaviors. This will only succeed if it is considered beneficial by those who will have to adopt them.

What is Kaizen Culture? Kaizen means “change for the good.” It is about enabling people to make better decisions to improve the work environment, achieving goals, and reaching the vision.

Connecting Kaizen Culture with Process Improvement: The culture is all about doing things better than before. Achieving real, ongoing process improvements is a key component to Kaizen Culture.

Core Kaizen Concepts:

  • We are all in this together. Everyone contributes.
  • Problems are the result of inadequate processes not individual human mistakes.


Kaizen Culture Behaviors

  • Humility – a willingness to be wrong.
  • Alignment – we are all in it together.
  • Security – an environment of openness and honesty.
  • Respect – acknowledge others and their contributions.
  • Service – acknowledge we’re here to serve the customer.
  • Process – a deep understanding of processes.
  • Urgency – move current issues.
  • Connection – connect across organization.
  • Consensus – reach decisions through discussion.
  • Sharing – share best practices.

Establishing a Kaizen Culture

  1. Nothing succeeds like success: In the early days of a CPI “start up” it is critical to achieve some success to establish credibility.
  2. Workplace organization: Ensure the work culture is organized; this will help identify opportunities for improvement and make it easier to implement them. The 5S method is the most common way of doing this.
  3. Recognize internal opportunities: Developing a workforce that can recognize the “eight wastes” in processes as opportunities for improvement.
  4. Recognizing external opportunities: Ideas for process improvements that come from the demands of management or the customer base.
  5. Daily Kaizen: Organic activity that allows decisions for change to be delegated to those who actually work the process.
  6. CPI Events: Start small, but start. Try a Kaizen Event with a clearly achievable, Lean based goal.
  7. Establish a CPI Deployment Approach: Establish formal procedures to ensure improvement in the most needed areas.
  8. Senior Management Involvement: Management must be seen as actively involved and CPI should be seen as a key corporate goal.
  9. A “Showcase” department: Focus CPI efforts in one department and as things improve it becomes a showcase.
  10. Applying a critical mass to projects: Ensure you bring a critical mass of resources to each project so it can be promptly completed.
  11. Avoid scope creep: Properly define boundaries of the project so that it doesn’t keep growing.
  12. Bias for action: Those who work on Process Improvements should have an understanding of their authority and feel empowered to act on it.
  13. The “horse is dead”: If a project has lost momentum either revitalize or kill it.
  14. Communications: Regular published updates on progress are key.
  15. Handling change: Create a Culture and Work Structure that can handle the changes that will result from Process Improvement.
  16. Acknowledge and celebrate success: It is key to show appreciation for all involved.
  17. The limitations of Process Improvement: Attempts to use PDSA or DMAIC in areas such as a new process or product should be avoided.
  18. Surviving transitions: If CPI deployment isn’t fully integrated it could come under close scrutiny by those unfamiliar with the benefits.

Front Line Supervisors “Walk the High Wire”

Dr. Aubrey Lee, Associate Professor for the School of Business and Economics at King University, writes today’s guest Blog.

The Harvard Business Review correctly said that “Performing well as a first-level supervisor is like walking a circus high wire.” Both require the ability to maintain one’s balance when shifting forces sometimes pull in opposite direction. First-level supervisors in SVAM organizations must be meet the demands of management, and the demands of workers who count them for leadership as they produce the company’s products.
Louise Lees, writing for the company Matchtech, offered six qualities successful supervisors must possess in order to effectively lead those they are supervising. Having worked in human resources for several manufacturing companies, I agree with Ms. Lees’ list which includes:
1. Good communication skills
Front line supervisors spend most of their time working on the shop floor and have first-hand knowledge of the dynamic manufacturing process. This requires considerable knowledge about information that must be passed on to employees and management. Strong communication skills are key.
2. Confident decision making
In SVAM companies there are constant deadlines, often resulting unexpected questions arising at short notice. The best supervisors are decisive in pressurized situations to make sure that deadlines are met.
3. Ability to act quickly
While decision making is important to supervisors, they must also be able to quickly respond to questions from their team and management. Responding quickly to challenging situations like mistakes or delays on a project is key to making sure that issues get resolved promptly.
4. Effective planning
 Supervisors must constantly be planning ahead to motivate the team to deliver the finished product on time and, ideally, under budget. In addition to planning the future of the project, experienced  supervisors must keep the team aware of the plans that enable goals to be met.
5. An eye for detail
Another important attribute supervisors must have is attention to detail. Many manufacturing processes involve physically assembling many, often complicated, components to create the final product.
6. Ability to take ownership
Being in a decision-making position, supervisors must be confident in their abilities and take ownership in their work and the decisions they make. Having confidence allows them to correctly advise and manage their team while working alongside them on the project and to correct any potential mistakes.
Dr. Aubrey Lee
Associate Professor
School of Business and Economics
King University
Office:  318 Bristol Hall
1350 King College Road, Bristol TN 37620

Meet the Makers: Sam Cassell

Utility-Sam-sqThrough this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.
We would like to introduce you to Sam Cassell, Plant Manager at Utility Trailer Manufacturing in Glade Spring, Virginia, manufacturer of Dry Van trailers. Manufacturing has provided Sam with a rewarding and beneficial career for 30 years. We sat down with Sam to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.


What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

It started when I was a young boy, a child wanting to play and tinker with little pieces of motors that used to come in toys, to tear them apart whether they would break accidentally or on purpose. Again, as a young kid I was just intrigued with how they worked and how we could take them apart and make other things with them. It just grew from there. Now that I look back on it, it was from childhood that got me interested and it continued on through school.

draftingTell us about your start in manufacturing.

I got started in my manufacturing career with Utility Trailer back in 1989 when the Atkins facility was opening up. I started there on the line and actually built the front wall on the third trailer that went down the production line. From there I had planned to just stay six months and move on to something else, but I found it very interesting, very challenging and neat that we were building something as large as a trailer. From there I had some opportunity within the company to move into different areas and gain a vast knowledge of the product. I have held the positions of Quality Inspector, Production Supervisor, Order Planning Supervisor, Quality Manager, and Plant Superintendent. Eventually I was given the opportunity to move into my current position as Plant Manager.

What education or training did you have before you started your job?

What is now referred to as a Carrier Center was once called Trade School. In Trade School I studied Drafting and blueprint reading. Back then it was the old green tables, nothing like you see today, but it was mechanical drafting. We got into drawing parts, both small and large, and we could see how they would work and come together. I found that very interesting, just being able to draw something from scratch, really just imaginary and how they could be put together and made to do different things. I got into blueprint reading and did a lot of that back in my high school days. When I graduated I went to college for a little bit, but I don’t know if I wasn’t ready for college or college wasn’t ready for me, it could go both ways. I didn’t finish college at that time. I went into the military for awhile. I went into the Army and got into working on tank systems. After the military I went to work for Utility Trailer. Then I finished my education and received my degree in business at age fifty. I personally found finishing my degree at an older age to be a benefit. I had a much better understanding of how to apply that education on the job and how to apply my years of experience in the class room. I have found that my business and drafting/blue printing education are equally important. I use each every day.

Sam 75000Tell us about your education/training throughout your career.

I have had on the job everyday training as manufacturing and our product continues to evolve for the customer needs. We’re faced with something new quite often. Training continues today.  Over the years I have received training in areas such as computer, heavy equipment brake systems, welding, and electrical painting, There is a lot that goes into building a trailer, it changes all the time so training is continuous.  Utility Trailer values training so a lot of time is devoted to this area. All employees begin training on day one.  We not only train on how to build trailers and operating tools, time is spent on safety, a lot of time on safety including proper lifting, wearing of personal protection equipment (PPE),  classes on blue print reading, use of measuring equipment, we have several on site with first aid / CPR training. I’m sure I will continue to go to trainings for the rest of my career.

Tell us about the progression of your career.

It started early on, I didn’t even know it. I got into my job and found I was liking it and learning. I was a lot younger then, and it was kind of cool to see we were building something with our hands and we could actually see the end product. We could see it out on the interstate each and every day and know that we had a part in doing that. There was a manager of mine early on, he didn’t tell me at that time, but it was shared with me many years later, and I asked him how I got where I am. He said to me, “Sam, we saw early on that you had something that we could use here. You had some work ethic, you had a good character and some knowledge, and the ability to do more and to learn.” Has it been easy? No. Some of the jobs and opportunities have been tough. Have all of them been a success? No, some of them have failed. But, to be honest, I think I’ve learned more from those failures than I ever have on the successes. I think it’s made me stronger and more hard headed to see current and future projects through to the end.

sam quoteWhat has this career meant to you?

Those people that we work with each and every day, it doesn’t just stop here. When we go home and people clock out our relationship doesn’t just stop. We see many of the people out in the community that we see here each day. Many times we’ll find ourselves out on the fence at a Little League game talking about what we just did today. I’ll get stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly about the job. When we’re out there together, outside of these walls, we share a lot. It’s not just me and the individuals who work here, it’s our families as well.


Watch the video below to find out why Sam has stayed in manufacturing for thirty years.

Meet the Makers: Dawn Archer

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.

Dawn 1

We would like to introduce you to Dawn Archer, Senior Manufacturing Operations Manager at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Marion, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Dawn with a rewarding and beneficial career for 38 years. We sat down with Dawn to talk about the progression of her career and why she has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

I was led to a career in manufacturing through my father. He worked as a Tooling and Facility Manager and as a Composites Product Manager here at this same facility, which at that time was called Brunswick Corporation.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing.

I went to work for Brunswick Corporation in 1980. I was 22 years old and my original position was an Engineering Technician. After three months in the Engineering Technician position, I was promoted to Program Coordinator in the Production Control Department.

What education and training did you have before you started your job?

I graduated locally from Marion Senior High School, then attended Virginia Tech. While at Virginia Tech I studied Political Science and Sociology. That background today doesn’t really sound like it fits in manufacturing, but back in 1980 with so few women in manufacturing positions, as long as you had a solid educational background, the company took the time to train you for the position you were hired to perform.  Today after 38 years of working in almost every area of the business, including 2 years at one of our business unit headquarters, I would have to say that it has been advantageous to be a part time politician and social worker.  Today with many technology changes in manufacturing, an educational background in science, technology, engineering, or math is beneficial.

Tell us about your continued education and training throughout your career.

Obviously, there was lots of on-the-job training.  Additionally, I continued my education taking several APICS [the association for supply chain management] courses, along with training in supervision, auditing, Lean 101, Lean Leadership, business writing, and communication & negotiation skills. In December 2003, I graduated from the President’s Leadership and Development Program, which was a 12-month program in Burlington, Vermont, that was established for GDATP (General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products) future leaders of the business.

Tell us about the progression of your career.

I was hired into manufacturing in 1980 as an Engineering Technician and was then promoted to a Program Coordinator in Production Control. From that position, I began to transition to Program Coordinator II, Master Scheduler, Manager Production & Material Control / Stockroom & Traffic, and then moved to Manager Radomes & Composite Manufacturing Plant 3. In 2003, I graduated from the President’s Leadership and Development Program and became the Director of Ethics in 2004. The Director of Ethics job required me to move to Charlotte, NC and work out of our GDATP headquarters.  At GDATP headquarters, I was a member of the senior staff and worked directly for the President of the company. Reporting directly to the President was a great opportunity that allowed me to travel to all of the GDATP locations and meet all of the people that manufactured the products for our business unit.

In 2006, the GDATP business unit reorganized.  At that point, the new Vice President over the Marion facility asked me to move back to Marion and I was appointed the Director of Production Planning and Support for Advanced Materials. In that job, I had responsibility of the planning support groups in Marion as well as our facility in Lincoln, Nebraska.  In 2008, I was appointed Director Manufacturing Operations and was responsible for all manufacturing activities.  In 2016, I was appointed the Director of Production and Material Planning / Aerostructures Operations Manager.  In 2018, our company moved into the GDMS (General Dynamics Mission Systems) business unit and titles changed to map with GDMS titles.  So currently I am Senior Manager, Manufacturing Operations, with the same oversight as in 2016.

What has it been about manufacturing that has made you want to stay in it as long as you have?

I have stayed in a manufacturing role simply because I love what I do.  I love everything that manufacturing brings to the table. There is always something new.  New processes, new techniques, new products, new equipment, new customers, and new ways of doing business through continuous improvement.  I’ve also stayed because of the people.  My co-workers, salary and hourly, have become a part of my extended family and that makes me work even harder, because I want this business to survive and excel.  I want all of my co-workers to have a long career like I have been blessed with.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

When I first came to work here I applied for the first two positions that I held.  The main highlight of my career that I am most proud of is that after those first two positions, I have been recognized and rewarded with promotions and new responsibilities on numerous occasions, without ever applying for another position, which has meant so much to me.

A second highlight in my career was the opportunity to work at our GDATP business unit headquarters. Working at our headquarters gave me a tremendous amount of knowledge pertaining to how the General Dynamics business operates and it opened doors for me to develop business relationships, throughout all of General Dynamics.  While at headquarters for 2 years, I developed an award winning Ethics program that received local, state, and national awards, which will always be a highlight in my career.

Finally, I would say being a third term member of the labor contract negotiating team. We have a union (UAW Local 2850) at the Marion facility, and we have to negotiate our labor contract usually every 3 – 5 years.  I have been fortunate enough to sit at the table with the union and management teams on three different contract labor agreements. Only a small handful of management employees get to experience the labor negotiation process, and that is an experience I will always remember.

What has this career meant to you?

This career in manufacturing has meant everything to me. It has given me many opportunities to grow as an individual by working with others, mentoring new employees, and developing myself. Having all the jobs that I’ve held the last 38 years, I’ve touched many production areas, almost every department, and almost every employee at the Marion facility.  One favorite memory from my experiences was in 2016, being part of a 4-person team that won a General Dynamics Manufacturing Excellence award for the successful start-up of the Gulfstream G600 program.  That award was a true success story for the company and for me personally.

My career has provided more than I ever dreamed would be possible for a young girl who started to work in manufacturing over 38 years ago.  The company has been very good to me through my promotions and through my job responsibilities. The company benefits have allowed me to provide for my family and serve my community through many community service activities and Board memberships. Without this manufacturing career, my experiences might have been few, and in my opinion I would have been a totally different person.

Watch the video below to find out more about Dawn’s 38 year manufacturing career.

Meet the Makers: Gene Chumley

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.


We would like to introduce you to Gene Chumley, Engineering Services Manager at Strongwell in Bristol, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Gene with a rewarding and beneficial career for 32 years. We sat down with Gene to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

Actually, I stumbled upon manufacturing. I was right out of college and looking for a job and once I started it I fell in love with manufacturing, and I’ve been in it ever since.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing

I started in 1986 at Electrolux in Piney Flats, Tennessee. I was working at a brand new electric motor plant.

What education and training did you have before you started your job?

I had a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee.

Tell us about your continued education and training throughout your career.

Through tuition reimbursement through the company I was able to pursue a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management through the University of Tennessee through an extension program. I also earned Green Belt in Lean Sigma.

Tell us about the progression of your career.

I started out as an entry level engineer at Electrolux and I worked my way up to Senior Development Engineer and I was there for 12 years. Then I moved onto West Tennessee for about two years as a Senior Project Engineer with Maytag. I had to get back to this area, so I moved back. I worked at Bristol Compressors for 18 years. I started there as a Senior Design Engineer and worked my way up to Manager of Engineering Services. Now I work for Strongwell Corporation in Bristol, VA.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

From here looking back at my career it’s got to be working with other people, helping people, mentoring them, and seeing other people grow in their careers. That shows a lot of satisfaction for me. I really love seeing other people succeed in their manufacturing careers.

What has it been about manufacturing that has made you want to stay in it as long as you have?

I’ve wanted to stay in manufacturing this long because of the great people I work with. I also enjoy the fact that everything is always different. I cannot remember ever having two days that were exactly the same. I also enjoy facing challenges and being able to solve problems. I like the fact that manufacturing is the bedrock of our economy. You’re able to take raw materials and through processes turn it into a finished good that somebody is willing to pay for, and it serves a need for someone else.

What has this career meant to you?

My career has been a huge part of my life. I enjoy working in the manufacturing industry. Meeting dates and completing projects successfully gives a great feeling of job satisfaction. My career has also allowed me to afford the time to do the hobbies I enjoy and spend time with my family. It has given my family a very good life. I feel truly blessed.

Watch the video below to find out more about why Gene has built his career in manufacturing.

Meet the Makers: Alan Freeman

Through this blog series we will introduce you to local manufacturing workers and explore their career paths and how manufacturing has positively impacted their lives. We want to show the community how manufacturing allows individuals to have a career they are proud of and enjoy.

alan desk smallWe would first like to introduce you to Alan Freeman, Plant Manager at Quadrant EPP in Wytheville, Virginia. Manufacturing has provided Alan with a rewarding and beneficial career for 34 years. We sat down with Alan to talk about the progression of his career and why he has stayed in manufacturing for such a long time.

What led you to pursue a career in manufacturing?

I was led to pursue a career in manufacturing mainly because of my degree in Chemical Engineering. When I graduated from Auburn University all of the job opportunities were in manufacturing so I naturally pursued this as my career route.

Tell us about your start in manufacturing

alan stripe shirtI got started in manufacturing when I worked summers in my home town in Alabama at a company called Samco Products. I worked as an operator’s helper on the production floor. Then after I graduated from Auburn, I started my career at Ciba-Geigy Corporation in McIntosh, Alabama as a Development Engineer where I provided process support to the production area I was assigned.

What education/training did you have before you started your job?

Other than my degree, I only had limited other experience prior to my first full time job.  After graduation I worked as a research assistant at Auburn while searching for full time employment. I worked at the University for a year helping with one of the research projects.

Tell us about your education and training throughout your career.

My formal education was a Chemical Engineering degree from Auburn University. I also obtained my Executive Masters of Business Administration from Winthrop University while I was working for Hoechst Celanese in Rock Hill, South Carolina. There are also many opportunities to further your training and education while working. The companies where I worked had multiple opportunities for continuing training and education. Such as, company held training, conferences and seminars. Training ranging from Quality Improvement systems, ISO Six Sigma, Lean manufacturing, environmental health and safety as well as Leadership training etc.

Tell us about the progression of your career.los 2017

I started as a Development Engineer at Ciba-Geigy Corporation in McIntosh Alabama. Ciba-Geigy was a major specialty chemical company. The plant where I work was a huge plant with over 1,000 employees. I was working on process improvement work for the Diazinon manufacturing process. I did that for two
years and was the first person at Ciba-Giegy to be promoted to Production Engineer 2. Previously someone had to have more experience to be promoted to such a position. The production engineer was responsible for all of the technical aspects of the process and had to insure that day to day the process was operating efficiently and direct actions to address problems and initiate improvements. In addition this person filled in for the Area Supervisor who was in charge and also for the shift supervisors who led the day to day activities. This was a major step for me and entailed taking on a great degree of responsibility at a very young age.

My next career move was to take a Unit Supervisor position at Hoechst Celanese in Rock Hill, SC. I was responsible for part of the manufacturing process for making a technical fiber called PBI which was used in fire retardant clothing and other applications. Reorganizations and downsizing then occurred which resulted in me taking full responsibility of all the manufacturing operations at this site and a promotion to Production Superintendent. I then made a lateral move to the Mount Holly Plant which was a specialty chemical plant with Hoechst Celanese. At this plant I was responsible for the operations making chemicals which were used in textile manufacturing. Again reorganization, downsizing, streamlining, occurred and I became the Operations Leader for all specialty chemical operations at this Plant. From Mount Holly, I transferred to the Polyester Plant in Salisbury, NC where I took on the challenge of leading the Process Improvement efforts for the polyester staple area. From that position I moved back to manufacturing management and became the Production Superintendent for the polyester staple business which involved several different processes from polyester polymerization to polyester staple production and responsibility for over 300+ employees.

I had always had a career goal of being a Plant manager and when the call came that there was an opportunity in Wytheville Virginia, I took the leap and applied for the position. I ended up getting the job and 21 years later can say that this was one of the best career decisions I have ever made.

Looking back, can you tell us about some highlights of your career?

When I was a Development Engineer I worked on developing a new process for making diazinon and have a patent for that, so that was pretty cool.
Beyond that it’s just the gains and improvements you make over time when you look back at what the plant used to be ten years ago and where it is now, what we’re able to achieve today through the hard work of the people I work with each and every day and the accomplishments we achieve. Seeing others advance and develop in their careers and helping them achieve their career goals. I take great pride in what our team accomplishes and the progress we make together. Some managers come and stay a short time and never have the chance to really see over time the impact that has been made. When you look back over the years and can remember how it used to be and then see people smile and take pride in the progress that has been made. That is what it is all about. One particular accomplishment that involved everyone at our plant was being certified as an OSHA VPP Star site. There are less than 2,500 manufacturing sites in the USA who have this and our plant is honored to be one of them. Our team has worked over 13 years without a lost time and has gone 4 years without any injury which is rare in manufacturing. Making sure you have a safe operation and a culture built around truly caring about each other is ultimately the biggest responsibility. We all have people who care about us and count on us to come home safely.

What has your career meant to you?alan quote

It has meant being able to support my family in ways that other careers may not have been able to. It has meant establishing wonderful relationships with great people and achievements made together. It is a lot of fun and has offered so many learning opportunities and challenges throughout the years. It has brought me to a beautiful place to live in Southwest Virginia which will be my home forever. The best part is that it is not over and if the Lord is willing, I will continue to do this for many more years to come.

Watch the video below to find out more about why Alan has built his career in manufacturing.

FMLA: The Basics and Common Issues

SVAM recently hosted a Lunch & Learn led by Catherine Karczmarczyk and Ramesh Murthy of PennStuart, entitled “The FMLA: What Every HR Manager Needs to Know.” This training covered the basics of the FMLA, common questions, and missteps to avoid.

Public agencies, schools, and private companies with 50 or more employees are required to provide FMLA to their employees. Employees covered by FMLA are eligible if they have worked at least 12 months for the employer, and have at least 1,250 hours of service, including temp time, during the year before their leave is set to begin. Covered employees must give at least 30 days notice to a management level employee if their need is foreseeable, for example, pregnancy.

The three most common qualifying leave reasons are for:

  1. Birth or placement of a child for adoption/foster care. The leave must be completed by the end of a 12 month period and can be taken all at once or in blocks of time.
  2. To care for spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition. This includes parents who stood in loco parentis, but not in-laws. It also includes children for whom the employee stood in loco parentis.
  3. For the employee’s own serious health condition. This includes inpatient care or continuing treatment.

Qualifying Military Family Leave is also covered for the active duty of a spouse, son, or daughter. FMLA leave can be taken as blocks of time, as intermittent leave, or as reduced hours leave.


One of the most important things a company can do is train supervisors on the appropriate actions to take regarding leave time. It is also important for both supervisors and HR to document everything and maintain records. There are several common supervisor issues that need to be avoided. First, avoid oral and written communications that can be construed as unsupportive of the leave given. For example telling an employee it is not a good time to take leave, or writing in an employee’s evaluation that they miss a lot of work.

A second issue is treating employees on FMLA as disabled. If an employee is prevented from doing essential job functions that is considered FMLA. ADA is when an employee needs accommodations to complete job functions. The two laws have divergent aims. If, however, an employee uses their 12 weeks of FMLA leave, employers can consider additional leave as a request for reasonable accommodation under ADA.

A third issue is the handling of leave requests. Since many employees are unfamiliar with the term FMLA, the burden is on the employer to recognize leave requests. It is also important for the employer to:

  • Require medical certifications
  • Notify employee of approval of leave
  • Notify employee of their rights and responsibilities
  • Notify employee when their leave has been exhausted

Another issue is a company’s failure to update policies. It is important for a company to have a policy in writing regarding FMLA and to update this policy annually. The policy should include an explanation of whether or not PTO and STD will run concurrently with FMLA, or how that will be handled. It should also cover moonlighting, and collection of insurance premiums. The policy also needs to address if leave is on a rolling or calendar basis.

The final issue is FMLA abuse, which is seen most often with intermittent leave. If employees show patterns of missed work, employers can get 2nd and 3rd opinions from doctors. Surveillance can also be sparingly used, but needs to be followed up with an opinion from a medical doctor regarding whether or not the activity in question is considered beyond bounds. A doctor’s note for missed time can always be required and employees can be asked to recertify every 30 days if the employer is doubtful that leave is still necessary.

Important Notes:

The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Catherine Karczmarczyk and Ramesh Murthy with PennStuart, but was not written by Ms. Karczmarczyk or Mr. Murthy. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided and were written by SVAM.

SVAM Members can view the full video presentation here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Catherine Karczmarczyk, Ramesh Murthy, or PennStuart should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.

Employee Handbook: Avoiding the Unwritten Rules

Clear and comprehensive employee handbooks are a necessity for every organization. At a recent Lunch & Learn, Catherine Karczmarczyk with PennStuart discussed the importance of avoiding unwritten rules.

There are many reasons to have an employee handbook, including communicating policies and procedures, and ensuring compliance with laws. According to Ms. Karczmarczyk, essential policies for all handbooks include:

  • At-will statement
  • Contract Disclaimer
  • Reservation of Rights
  • Statement that Current Handbook Supersedes Previous Versions
  • Non-Retaliation Policy
  • Statement Regarding Benefits Plan Documents
  • Acknowledgement”

It is also essential to have a policy addressing harassment. The policy should cover what harassment is, when it is unlawful, and what constitutes harassing behavior. It addition to this, the handbook should also include a Non-Retaliation Policy, recognizing an employee’s right to file grievances and guaranteeing no retaliation against the reporting individual.

Strongly suggested policies for all handbooks include:

  • Purpose of the Handbook
  • EEO Statement
  • Employment Classifications
  • Work Hours
  • Attendance
  • Timekeeping
  • Pay Practices
  • Payroll Deductions
  • Holidays, Vacations, Sick Time, etc.
  • Different Types of Leave
  • Reasonable Accommodations
  • Personal Appearance
  • Drug/Alcohol Testing
  • Tobacco Use
  • Driving on Company Business
  • Company Inspection of Work Area
  • Weapons/Non-Violence


There are three categories of rules according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): Category 1 rules are generally lawful to maintain, Category 2 rules warrant individualized scrutiny, and Category 3 rules are unlawful to maintain. Ms. Karczmarczyk went through some rules and which category they fall under.

Civility Rules: Most civility rules are considered Category 1 rules. The general idea of Civility Rules prohibits name calling, socially unacceptable behavior, rudeness, or gossip. A Category 2 Civility rule would be banning disparaging comments about the employer, and that is something to beware of when writing the handbook.

No Photography and No Recording: It is acceptable to ban recording since that is now considered a Category 1 rule. If your company ban includes cell phones, which could be an employee’s main method of communication, it is important to give advanced notice and a reason for the rule. It is also a good idea to enact the ban for working time rather than working hours, this allows for employees to use their cell phones on lunch and breaks.

Disruptive Behavior Rules: Disruptive behavior rules are usually considered Category 1 rules as long as the disruptive behavior happens during company hours. The idea of this is to limit dangerous or bad behavior. However, banning employee activity outside of working hours becomes a Category 2 rule and the courts will look to see if “the employer has a legitimate interest in banning the activity.”

Confidentiality: It is acceptable to make a rule “banning discussion of confidential, proprietary, or customer information.”  However it becomes a Category 2 rule when an employer tries to require confidentiality about “employer business” or “employer information”. It is unlawful to require confidentiality about wages, working conditions, and benefits.

Rules Against Using Employer Logos or Intellectual Property: It is also acceptable to ban employees from using employer logos and intellectual property. However, banning the use of the employer name is considered a Category 2 rule.

Rules Requiring Authorization to Speak for the Company: It is considered a Category 1 rule to “prevent an employee from speaking to the media on the employer’s behalf.” It is a Category 2 rule to ban speaking to media as an individual employee. The employer would need a legitimate reason to ban this.

FMLA: FMLA is something that must have a separate policy that meets Department of Labor requirements. If the employer isn’t large enough to be required to have an FMLA policy, it is a good idea to consider a leave of absence policy.

Personal Use of Employer-Owned Internet Devices and Resources: Ms. Karczmarczyk suggests being practical when creating rules regarding personal use of employer owned cell phones, computers, and resources. It is important to be specific with usage guidelines and policies. Employers also have the right to “monitor electronic communications if an employee is using an employer’s equipment.”

Social Media Policy: The key to having a social media policy is to have a strict definition and apply it consistently. Employees can be terminated for publishing confidential information, but not for statements that would be considered Category 3, for example wage information.

Discipline: Ms. Karczmarczyk advised that in regard to discipline it is best to state that discipline will be imposed as necessary, up to and including termination. It is also best to reserve “rights to impose any level of discipline deemed necessary, including discharge for the first offense.” All discipline measure taken should be documented and kept in the employee’s file.

Non-Solicitation and Non-Distribution: Banning solicitation and distribution during working time is considered presumptively valid. Working time is the time employees should actually be working. This needs to be enforced in a non-discriminatory manner.

Other topics that might be covered in an Employee Handbook include performance reviews and promotions, and job descriptions. Handbooks should be updated yearly and always dated.

Important notes:
The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Catherine Karczmarczyk with PennStuart, but was not written by Ms. Karczmarczyk. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided and were written by SVAM.

SVAM Members can view the full video of Ms. Karczmarczyk’s presentation here.

None of the advice or comments attributed to Catherine Karczmarczyk or PennStuart should be relied upon as legal advice, nor was any advice or comments intended to be legal advice.